10 May 2008

My Iron Spine cover/New Zealand writing

Hello again. I feel like it's ages since I've posted, and it has been over a week. I hope you didn't think I'd given up. I'd like to say I've been doing lots of terribly useful and important things in the meantime, but I haven't been doing much writing of any kind. Or much reading for that matter.

One thing I have been doing is working on cover concepts for My Iron Spine. I'm down to two concepts - one a rather cool but possibly too dark photograph, the other involving a little painting of a torso in a corset, seen from the back - constriction/containment etc (painted by moi, on Tuesday night, and I think it's turned out pretty well). I'm going to tinker further with them, and then see what my publisher thinks. I'd better hurry up, because the distributor needs a cover soon. I've been showing various options to people, and mostly they don't agree. There did seem to be a general preference for the two I'm favouring though. When I have something sorted, I'll post it here.

What I was actually planning to write about, though I got slightly sidetracked, was about a post over here on Undulating Ungulate, where Billy asks for advice on what New Zealand literature he might like. It helps of course if you know Billy, but I'd be interested to know what some of your favourite New Zealand writers/books are.

I suggested Billy should read Maurice Gee, especially Plumb; Lloyd Jones, especially Biografi; and Tim Corballis. For Billy, I should have also mentioned Julian Novitz and the stories of Tim Jones.

For myself, I am also a big fan of Katherine Mansfield - I think my fav story is 'Daughters of the Late Colonel', though I'm also very keen on 'At the Bay'. (My first, and I thought rather successful, short screenplay was an adaptation of 'At the Bay' - though at 30 pages, it's probably too long to get made. Sean and I also wrote a screen adaptation of 'Daughters of the Late Colonel', which I think needed some more work, but such a beautifully surreal and hilarious story would be great on screen if you could get it right.) I think it's kind of a pity that we often study her at school, when I'm not sure we're really ready for her.

There's also lots of New Zealand poetry I like. Some of my favs include the writers I've published: Vivienne Plumb, Anna Jackson, Jenny Powell-Chalmers, Scott Kendrick. Also Harry Ricketts, South by Chris Orsman. Also influential: Fleur Adcock, Mark Pirie, James K Baxter, Ursula Bethell, many more.

Now that I've started thinking about it, I'm sure there's lots more I'd add. But I'm really keen to know some of your favs - expand my horizons.


harvey molloy said...

Hi Helen. I like the corset cover. Aren't corsets wonderful? As for NZ lit, I'd add Hone Tuwhare and Keri Hulme's brilliant short story 'Hooks and Feelers.' I'm also fond of Bill Manhire's 'Milky Way Bar' and 'Zoetropes' along with Ruth Dallas's poetry and I have a found spot for Alistair Paterson's rather over the top 'Qu'appelle' which I loved in the 80s. That's what comes to mind this morning. Oh, yea, I like Joe Bennett!

Helen Rickerby said...

Hi Harvey. I also think corsets are pretty cool, but not always comfortable. I'm not familiar with 'Qu'appelle'. What is it, and why is it over the top? I shall have to look it up!

Tim Jones said...

I'm very impressed by your painting - a string to your bow I didn't know about.

Thanks for the hat tip re my stories.

I looked through my LibraryThing catalogue at


to help remind myself who my favourite New Zealand writers were, in addition to those already mentioned, and came up with:

Poets - Jenny Bornholdt, Alistair Campbell, Allen Curnow, Ruth Dallas, John Dolan, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen, C. K. Stead, Robert Sullivan, Hone Tuwhare, Simon Williamson

Fiction writers: Owen Marshall, C. K. Stead

There's a glaring disparity there, and indeed, I read a lot less NZ fiction than NZ poetry. I think this is partly because New Zealand fiction is still strongly in the grip of realism, and while we have many wonderful practitioners of realism in NZ literature, it's not the genre I prefer to read for pleasure.

I need to work harder, though, to seek out New Zealand fiction writers who step outside realism's strict confines.

Helen Rickerby said...

Tim, I'm really interested in your comment about NZ fiction being in the grip of realism. I have a similar feeling. Not to criticise anyone in particular, but I'd really like to see some more experimentation, more challenging writing, more innovation.

Another possibility is, of course, that NZers are writing wonderful, innovative, magic-realist fiction, but that publishers - skittish creatures that they (we) are - aren't publishing it. Maybe they fear that if it isn't a story about an unsatisfactory boyhood in a provincial town, then it won't sell.

There, of course, are some exceptions. The Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox, is an obvious one - not so many affairs between men and angels in real life. She also wrote Daylight, a vampire novel, which was fun but, I thought, less successful. And I haven't read her Dreamhunter books.

I also seem to recall some interesting stuff going on in some of Janet Frame's novels - like Owls Do Cry. But these writers seem to be an exception.

But I'd love to be enlightened about some more.

billy said...

Yeah, I think part of what motivated my question in the first place was my sense that my own writing feels way outside what is happening - and if I dare say it myself, is somewhat experimental, innovative and challenging - and I'd like to know what relationship, if any, I have to whatever NZ writing "is", as a NZ writer.

Helen said...

What fun to be deciding on cover images! I'm velly jellis! Johanna Aitchison is doing different things. I'm a fan of hers.

Helen Rickerby said...

Hi Helen. I absolutely agree about Johanna Aitchison, and I think there's lots of really interesting poetry stuff going on.

harvey molloy said...

If you love experimentation, then please Qu'appelle. A ship comes into a harbour, a nuclear explosion destroys us all, and there are moments of lyric--what's the word I'mm looking for?--lucidity. An extract is online at http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=5299

Qu'Appelle. Dunedin : Pilgrims South Press, 1982.
Stead, C.K. Listener 103(2251):99; 26 Mar 1983.